Two or three hours to kill. I debated going back home, but I’d just have to make my way back downtown in rush hour traffic. So I moved the Honda to a parking garage tried to find a signal for my laptop.
A search for Daniel Jarvis turned up nothing. But a new search for Livvy— Olivia Heinrich. That turned up some unwelcome news.
She was dead.
I zeroed in on the story. Olivia Heinrich, 26, had been walking home from her car to her apartment on the west side early in the morning when something had attacked her. Maybe a dog, or a coyote—sometimes they wandered into the city. Whatever. She’d been mauled to death, dying from blood loss and severe trauma on the sidewalk outside her apartment building.
Just this morning. So maybe nobody at the company knew.
I had a CPD detective on speed dial. She wouldn’t be happy to hear from me, but . . .
“Dudovich. What the hell, Jurgen? I’ve got enough to deal with without another horror story. Homicides are up, in case you haven’t heard.”
“President Trump will take care of that in a week, remember? And then you’ll be out of a job. So in the meantime, what can you tell me about the Olivia Heinrich murder?”
Elena Dudovich was a cop. A good one, honest and tough. She sort of hated me, because I told her stories she couldn’t always ignore, and then she was stuck twisting them into reports her superiors would accept. Vampires? Serial killers with a taste for blood. Demons? People gone crazy. Monsters terrorizing a strip joint? Hallucinations caused by bad booze.
But she’d a few things she couldn’t just write off. So sometimes she listened to me. “I swear to God, Jurgen, if this is another imaginary monster . . . wait, Heinrich? That one isn’t even classified as a homicide. Just an unexplained death. What the hell is this?”
“Just tell me what killed her. Or can you do that without getting permission from City Hall?”
“Screw you. I can’t send you the pictures, but they ain’t pretty. Have you had lunch yet? I haven’t and it’s almost five o’clock. It was last night, around 12:30 or 1:00. She was—I don’t know. The first officer who found her said she looked like a crocodile attacked her. Of course, he’s from Florida. There aren’t any crocodiles in the sewers here.” She paused. “Are there?”
“It’s a dragon.” Dudovich wouldn’t believe me, but I had to tell her. “There’s a dragon loose in the city. I don’t know where it’s hiding, but he’s hunting stolen gold. I’ll try to take care of it, but you should tell everybody—”
“What the hell?” It should have been a shout, but Dudovich kept her voice close to a whisper. “Every time I think you can’t surprise me with some new bullshit, you manage to raise it to a new level of insanity. What the hell would I tell anyone? Look out for a dinosaur coming out of every alley? You really think I can put this out there?”
I rubbed my eyes. “No. Of course not. I just thought I should warn somebody. I don’t know what’s going to stop this thing—shotguns, maybe hand grenades. I’ve got Rachel looking into it—”
“Good, because I trust her a lot more than you. Maybe it’s a girl thing.” Dudovich groaned softly. “Damn it. Hughes is coming over. Got to go. Call me, or—on the other hand, don’t call me. All right?” She hung up.
Great. I looked at my phone, thought about calling Rachel just to hear her voice, even if she yelled at me, and decided what I really needed was a beer.
So I headed to Marco’s. Cory might not be there for an hour, or even longer, but I could nurse a beer for that long. The w-fi was good. I read everything I could find on the internet about dragons.
Smaug, from The Hobbit. Pete’s Dragon, from the Disney cartoon. The Jabberwock. The dragons of Pern. Godzilla. The Komodo dragons. Drogon, Viserion, and Rhaegal, the dragons hatched by Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones. Okay, I admit I checked out a few hot pictures of Emilia Clarke on that one. I’m a guy.
None of this was helping me find Daniel Jarvis, Leo’s gold, or Ramathor. I was just killing time until—
“You.” Cory’s face was pale. She dropped a small backpack on the floor and slid into a chair. “Livvy is dead.”
“I just found out.” I waved for a waiter.
“Is it about Dan? He didn’t . . .” She ordered a vodka with orange juice. “He wouldn’t do something like that.”
“He didn’t kill her.” I didn’t want to start talking about dragons just now. “What did they tell you?”
“It was on the internet. Sheila called a meeting, then she sent everyone home. I guess a cop called her.” Cory blinked, looking out the window. “She said they might want to talk to all of us.”
“They usually do.” I finished my beer and ordered another when the vodka came. “So what can you tell me about Dan? He and Livvy were dating?”
Cory giggled. Then she gulped her vodka. “Sorry. I just—I shouldn’t laugh. I like Livvy. She’s funny and smart, and we work together a lot. But . . . well, she wasn’t the only one.”
“Dan and . . . other women?”
“Well, hey, he wasn’t married or anything.” She twirled a strand of blond hair around a finger. “It wasn’t anything serious. He was a lot more open about Livvy, and that was okay. But he still wanted to hook up. And that was okay, too.” She turned her eyes on me, daring me to judge her.
My beer came, and Cory immediately ordered another screwdriver.
“An expense account is a wonderful thing.” I reminded myself to get a receipt. “So I don’t care who was having sex in your office. I’m just trying to track down Dan Jarvis. When was the last time you saw him, or talked to him?”
“Last week. Thursday. My place.” She sat back with a sigh. “Long night. When he was getting up to go, he gave me this.”
Cory unzipped a pocket in her backpack. “This. He said it was a present.”
She dropped a gold Krugerrand on the table between our drinks.
Oh god. I looked out the window, in case the dragon was coming up through the sidewalk. “Do you know—could Dan have given one of these to Livvy?”
Her laugh was bitter. “I think he was dropping them in front of homeless people. He said he had to get rid of them. He was going out of town to trade them in for cash. I don’t know how much he had, or how he was going to get them out of the country, but—” Then she saw the terror in my eyes. “What?”
I downed half my beer and reached out for the coin. “You have to give this to me. It could be dangerous. It might be . . .” Dangerous for who? “It could be why Livvy was killed.”
“Okay!” Cory leaned back, hands high. Her chair knocked against a couple of guys drinking beers behind her. “Sorry! Uh, yeah, take the thing.” She sipped her vodka. “Wait a minute. That’s worth a lot of money, isn’t it? Shouldn’t you give me a receipt or something for it?”
I was worried about dragons. She was thinking about money. But she had a legitimate point. “Honestly, I probably don’t have enough money in my checking account to reimburse you. You’d have to sue me, and I might have to sue my client, and it would be a whole mess. But here . . .” I kept a receipt book in the pocket of my jacket. “Let me give you this—”
“Oh, forget it.” Cory finished her drink. “I just thought—I don’t know. I hope Dan’s all right.”
She stood up, somewhat unsteady on her legs. “I’m going home. Thanks for the drinks.”
“Thanks for your help.” I slipped the gold coin into my back pocket and signaled for the waiter.
Rachel was sitting at the dining room table back at my apartment, peering at her laptop. “I found a dragon hunter.”
“So that’s a thing?”” I dropped my briefcase on the sofa. “Do we have any Doritos?”
“What am I, your waitress?” She stood up and stretched. Rachel has red hair and hazelnut eyes, and she was wearing jeans and a “Chicago Cubs win the World Series” T-shirt. “I could use a beer, I guess.”
“Just water.” I pulled out a chair and sat, trying to think. Rachel brought out a bag of chips, a Heineken, and a bottle of water for me. “So what do we know about dragons?” I crossed my arms, mostly to keep them from shaking with fear. “Aside from the obvious.”
Rachel stretched her arms. “They were probably cross-bred from the last of the dinosaurs, by sorcerers trying to protect their gold. That’s one legend. Or explorers in African saw huge crocodiles and other animals and their stories got exaggerated over time. Or they existed, but most of them died out thousands of years ago, except a few went into hibernation. The Nazis might have woken some up to protect the gold they looted during World War II. Or they started out in Asia, made their way to Europe but couldn’t handle the climate, so they—”
I held up a hand. “All right. Sorry I asked. What about this dragon hunter?”
“He’s in California. We can Skype with him, but he’s going to charge you $100 for a consultation, and a crap-ton more if you actually want him to come out here.” She opened her laptop and her cell phone. “There’s a woman in Wisconsin, and she only charges $50 for a phone call. I’m not sure if she does house calls.”
“Let me call my client.” I hit the number on my phone.
“Leo’s asleep.” Marie Jarvis’ voice was a quiet whisper.
“Okay.” I sighed. “I think the dragon has already killed one person—Daniel’s girlfriend. He gave her one of the krugerrands. He may be trying to convert them into cash. What kind of box were they stored in?”
“A big—a metal container. With handles. It was heavy. I couldn’t lift it. I tried once.” She gasped. “Wait—Ramathor killed someone?”
“Yeah.” Calling the dragon by a name sounded—weird. “It was a woman Daniel was dating at work.” I gulped some water.
“Oh my god.” Marie swallowed. I’m so—I’m so sorry. I can’t . . . Leo said he slept all the time. I didn’t even think . . . Oh my god.”
I waited. But I couldn’t wait for long. “I’m sorry, I have to ask a question.”
“Go—go ahead.” She blew her nose.
“Right now I’m a little more concerned with finding the dragon and, uh, dealing with it before it kills anyone else? Than I am with recovering your husband’s gold.”
“Of course.” She was whispering again.
“How would Daniel have gotten the gold out without waking it? I mean, if it’s job was to guard the gold . . .”
“Leo has—some kind of a sleeping potion. So he could go down and take some out, and put more in, safe and sound. Of course, he doesn’t go down there much anymore. And I don’t go down at all.”
I understood. “That’s good to know. I may need some of that.”
“I’ll . . .” She hesitated. “I’ll have to talk to Leo about that.”
“I’ll be in touch.”
“Wait! What about Daniel?”
Now I hesitated. “I don’t know. If he’s got the gold . . .”
“You—oh god. You have to find him before the dragon does.” Her voice was urgent. “He’s the only family Leo has left.”
I nodded, even though she couldn’t see me. “I’ll do my best.”
We hung up. I looked at Rachel. “Set it up with the California guy.”
So a half hour later we were on Skype with Desmond Hacker, dragon hunter.
I expected a big man with in a leather vest with a beard and maybe a necklace of dragon teeth. Instead I saw a pudgy white guy in a black T-shirt. “So you’ve got a dragon?” He smiled. “What species is it?”
Species I didn’t have a field guide to dragons. “His name’s Ramathor. Six legs, about fifteen feet long. No wings. No idea how old it is, but it was brought here from Eastern Europe before World War Two. It’s been guarding my client’s collection of gold for years, and now it’s out because the gold was stolen. So how do I find? And what do I do about it?”
“Huh.” Hacker tapped some keys on his laptop, and a small drawing came up in a corner of the screen. “Is this what it looks like?”
I didn’t bother magnifying the image. “I haven’t actually seen it. I know it’s killed at least one person. What do I do?”
He folded his arms, as if in deep thought. “It’s probably hiding in the sewers or the storm drains. You need to lure it out somehow.”
Gee, thanks. “I have a piece of the gold it’s looking for. How do I—”
“What?” Rachel slugged my arm. “Where?”
“Ow! I left it outside.” I’d put it inside a plastic bag and shoved it into the dirt next a fire hydrant down the street, hoping that dog pee would keep both the dragon and humans from finding it right away. And then I cleaned my hands with five disinfectant wipes from my car before coming back to the building.
Hacker leaned forward to peer at Rachel. “Hi there. Who is that?”
“I’m Rachel. Tom’s worst nightmare.” She smiled. “And maybe yours. How much is this consultation costing again?”
“Wait a minute.” I waved a hand before everything spiraled out of control. “So what’s a safe way to lure it out? And how do I kill it?”
Hacker chuckled. “There’s no safe way to deal with dragons. Killing them? Well . . .” He lifted a long spear. “This works if you hit the right spot. Do you have a sword? You can cut off its head if you want to get close enough. Or—”
“I do have a sword, actually.” A Japanese army sword that my father had given me. It had killed, or at least wounded, an ancient vampire called a lamia, but I wasn’t the one wielding it. I wasn’t sure I could swing it hard enough to cut anything more than a slice of cheese, especially while gasping with terror. “What’s the right spot?”
“Usually in the middle of its chest.” Hacker tapped his T-shirt, just above his belly. “Right here. But you have to hit hard and deep. Now I can come out there tomorrow, or the day after—”
“I’ll think about it. Thanks for your help.” I closed the laptop. Now what?
“Asshole.” Rachel stood up. “He looked like a muscular, dragon-fighting warrior in the pictures on his website. I guess they can do a lot with Photoshop these days.”
“Yeah.” I sipped my water. “Goddamn it. Mom was right. I should have been an accountant.”
Rachel snorted. “Right. You can’t pay your own bills on time.”
“So that means I have to go fight a dragon?” I stared at the table. “There should be some middle ground.”
My phone buzzed. Damn it. Rachel got up and went into the kitchen as I answered. “Tom Jurgen speaking—”
“Hey! It’s me. Cory.” She sounded hoarse. “I just heard from Dan.”
I sat forward. “Where is he?”
“I don’t know. But he sounded scared. He wanted to know about the gold coin he gave me.”
I grabbed my water. “I’ve got it. It’s hidden. You should be safe.”
“But—oh shit. I’ve got a bunch more. He gave them to me to keep until he could get back from, I don’t know, wherever he went to change them. But he sounded like he was crazy. I don’t know what’s going on!”
Oh god. “Get rid of them. Right now. Throw them out the window, down the garbage chute, whatever. Just don’t keep them in your apartment. Where are you?”
She gave me an address. I could be there in—well, twenty minutes, but I had to make a stop first. “I’ll be there as fast as I can. Call me if Dan calls back.”
“What is it?” Rachel came back with and the bottle of whiskey I keep for special occasions. Like New Year’s or when I really want to get drunk. I wanted a drink or six, but it looked like I was going dragon hunting, like it not.
“More gold. In this girl’s apartment. I hope she’s dumping it right now.” I stood up. “I’m going to need the sword.”
She put her hands on her hips. “First things first—what girl?”
I groaned. “I’ll explain on the way.”
“I’ll get the sword. I’m coming with you.”
I nodded. No point in having this argument again. “Of course.”
She headed to my bedroom. “This doesn’t make me the sidekick, by the way!”
I took a quick drink of whiskey. It burned. Like a dragon’s breath. “Of course.”